The last couple of days have been long travel days. I left my comfortable abode in Banos somewhat reluctantly and arrived at the bus station five minutes too late for the express bus to Riobamba so had to wait for 3/4 hour for the next one, which, unusually, left late. This was a much more ‘local’ bus and seemed to wind its way round the houses before arriving at its destination 2 hours later.
The city was much larger than I anticipated and the bus terminated by the market, which didn’t look anything like a bus terminal. And it wasn’t! This took me a little by surprise as I then had to catch a taxi across town to the Terminal Terrestre, as the bus stations are called, for the bus to Alausi. At least I saw enough of the city to know that I was glad I wasn’t staying.
I bought a ticket for a bus that I thought was leaving at 1.30pm. Apparently not. It left at 2pm (or maybe this one was late as well!). Another trip took me through the mountains and up to Alausi. It is very hard to know which towns and villages the bus passes through as there are very few signs and it is difficult to see, particularly when I am not sitting next to the window. As per usual, people were getting on and off in the middle of nowhere and I was left wondering where they lived or where they were going. However, there were a number of signposts to various ‘Communidads’, all several kilometres away, which I assume were indigenous villages and where the passengers were headed.
On arrival in Alausi, I just had to walk across the road to my hotel. I had come here specifically to take the Devil’s Nose railway, which was a remarkable engineering feat in its day. After I had checked in, I went for a walk around the town, which was another surprise of the day as it is very attractive and non touristy.
There is a statue of one of the thousands of saints on top of the hill overlooking the town and the buildings themselves are very colourful and colonial looking. There were few tourists around but many indigenous people, with the ladies dressed in their embroidered skirts and brightly coloured shawls and socks. I had coffee with a German couple that I had talked to in the hotel and then strolled back to my room, armed with food supplies for the evening.
The next day, I was awake very early. The train left at 8am and the station was a short walk down the main street. Unfortunately, the clouds were covering the town, which didn’t auger well for seeing the spectacular views from the train. Ticket buying was an extremely slow process and, given that there were not many people, I wondered how they coped in the high season. Maybe this is why they suggest you buy the ticket the day before!
The train set off punctually and was barely half full. The driver’s assistant, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to change the levers on the tracks, had an entire carriage to himself. I had an irritating Spanish man sitting opposite me, who was like a cat on hot bricks. It didn’t make for a relaxing journey.
The train took us through the gorge to Simambe and we could just about see the mountains through the clouds and rain. Above Simambe, the train has to do a reverse zig zag as it is the only way the engineers could manage the steep gradient at this point.
Once in Simambe, we were greeted by dancers and then steered towards the very small museum where we were given a guided tour. There are two interpretations of why it is called the Devil’s Nose railway. Firstly, if you look hard enough at the mountain above Simambe, a nose, eyes and mouth can be seen, and secondly, because so many thousands died in its construction that it was regarded by indigenous people as the devil’s revenge for building it in the first place.
After visiting the museum, there was more dancing, including audience participation (and, yes, I did participate!) before getting back on the train again for the return trip to Alausi. The view was marginally better but not much. We arrived back at 10.30am and I had a wander and a coffee before returning to my room for an hour or so, prior to catching the 1pm bus to Guayaquil.
This was one of the slowest trips to date as well as the least comfortable. We wound our way through mountains in the clouds and rain and I pitied all the poor housewives who had washing dripping outside their houses, some of which were little more than shacks. The bus obviously also served as a school bus as hordes of children got on at a couple of towns and then got off in various rural spots. They weren’t the best behaved and were all eating sweets or ice creams, leaving the rubbish strewn about the bus or throwing it out of the window. At one point, the girls in front of me, reclined the seat straight into my knees and then opened the window wide. I was not happy!
Closer to Guayaquil, we picked up a large group of construction workers and the bus became extremely full and even stuffier. I was certainly very relieved when we arrived in the city, five hours after I had left Alausi. I got a taxi into town, checked into the hostel, had a shower and treated myself to a beer on the terrace. Having gone from wearing polar fleeces, trousers and socks and shoes, I am now back in air conditioning, shorts and t shirts. Hooray!